Steamboat Springs When Steamboat Springs Police Department was looking to hire a new officer, the goal was to hire the best person available who would fit in with the department and the community.
The department found Kristin Bantle, a 39-year-old who has spent the past 13 years working at the Mason County Sheriff’s Office in Ludington, Mich.
“She wasn’t hired because she was a female,” Chief JD Hays said. “We try to fill out ranks with the best person that is available to us.”
Since 1980, the department, which currently budgets for 15 positions in the patrol division, has employed six female patrol officers. Deb Funston was the most recent female officer. She left in December 2007 after more than five years of service.
Law enforcement agencies on the local and national level are dominated by men, according to a June 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.
In 2008, women accounted for 16 percent of officers at federal agencies with more than 500 employees. Among police departments, 15 percent of the force was female at agencies
with more than 100 employees. Woman accounted for eight percent of the force at agencies with 11 to 100 employees, and about six percent were women in departments with less than 11 people. With Bantle, women now account for seven percent of officers in Steamboat’s patrol department.
The National Center for Women & Policing strives to increase the opportunities available to women. The organization thinks women have a positive impact in policing, according to its website, and cites studies that show increasing the number of women in law enforcement leads to “the increased efficacy in police response to violence against women, and the increased emphasis on conflict resolution over use of force.”
Bantle thinks she excels in both of those areas. She has worked closely with the victims of domestic abuse and was the negotiator for the special weapons and tactics team in Mason County.
In Mason, Bantle was the only female patrol officer at the department, which served a population similar in size to Routt County and had an economy driven largely by tourism.
She said one challenge of being a female cop is that sometimes “people test you.” She felt like she always had to compensate for that by staying mentally and physically fit.
“It has been tough being a woman in a male-dominated workforce; it is a tough job no matter who does it,” Bantle said. “I think most men have to come to realize that women can be essential to law enforcement and truly appreciate a different approach to difficult situations. I feel very lucky to have worked in this field with some of the best men in the business. I am looking forward to a new chapter in my career and opportunity to work with more remarkable people.”
Before entering law enforcement, Bantle worked for Communities Overcoming Violent Encounters. She worked closely with the victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault and said she grew tired of seeing the same suspects repeatedly coming through the legal system.
“I started carrying a gun thinking it would make a difference,” Bantle said.
Bantle resumed work with COVE in 2005 as a volunteer board member while working at the Mason County Sheriff’s Office and was president when she left.
Bantle said her experience with COVE will help her in her new role in Routt County, which had 25 sex assault victims come forward in 2010, according to Advocates Building Peaceful Communities Executive Director Diane Moore. The organization served 310 victims last year.
Police Capt. Joel Rae said he had identified a need for a female officer and thinks Bantle will be an asset in domestic abuse cases. Victim rapport can sometimes be established quicker with a female officer who is dealing with a female victim of a crime, he said.
“She’s in the business to help,” Rae said. “You can tell that just by talking to her.”
Bantle, a Colorado Springs native who attended college in Montana, said she moved to Steamboat because she and her husband, David Gibbs, were seeking a change and a good place to raise their two young children. Gibbs owned a restaurant in Michigan, she said, and was looking forward to possibly opening a new business in Steamboat.
“He’s a great employer and wants to give people jobs,” Bantle said.
Bantle started at the Police Department on April 1 and has had a couple of opportunities to ski at Steamboat Ski Area. Bantle said she and her husband are avid kayakers and also enjoy hiking, biking and camping.
Bantle said she hopes to resume her volunteer work in Steamboat. Community service is important to her, she said, because she is a part of this community.
“I’ll definitely do something,” Bantle said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com